Case Study – Viral Marketing for Offline Retailers

As part of our motto of democratizing the web, we sometimes give free access to SimilarWeb PRO to Students who need the data for research purposes. One of these students was Maria Guevara, a graduate of The University of California, Berkeley.

Maria wrote a very interesting paper about the use of Viral marketing for big retail competitors. Since the paper is in a format of a case study which reveals valuable information about social media marketing, we’ve decided to include it here.

Case Study Summary:

The case study was in reference to a large retailer and clothier based in San Francisco, California. Maria had identified the competitors for this niche from web research, articles and varies web analytic tools, including SimilarWeb PRO. She also included information about their online marketing strategies and distribution of social networks traffic.

This led her to a set of recommendations for social marketing strategies, while elaborating about all major social networks which she found, via SimilarWeb PRO, as referrals to the competitors included the paper. One such example is about one of the competitors which has mastered the ability of becoming an Omni-channel retailer which means they focus on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels such as, mobile, computers, TV, radio, etc. thus creating a specialized supply chain.


The full paper:


Case Study: The Quest to Become the Leading Omni-Channel Retailer in a Viral World

Maria G PhotoMaria Guevara

Student at the University of California, Berkeley and working in the high-tech industry

November 29, 2013



This paper is a review of Gap based on an eight-week observation of their strategies and tactics used to drive their social media campaign and efforts. Gap should expand their e-commerce business globally by fully utilizing Web 2.0 capabilities, preparing for Web 3.0 functionalities and continue strategies for growth and success in an Omni-channel world (1).


Gap the Company

Founded in 1969 Doris and Don Fisher opening a single store in San Francisco,

California because Don couldn’t find a pair of jeans that fit. From there the Fishers grew their company from a single concept to iconic retailer. Today, customers in about 90 countries can buy Gap brand clothing and accessories (2).


Gap is the leading global retailer of men, women, children and babies clothing, accessories and personal care products. According to their website the company employees 137,000 employees, 3,100 company-operated stores and over 350 franchise stores. Gap is sold in about 90 countries worldwide. They are headquartered in San Francisco, California. Their product design team is located in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London. Store Management, distribution and product manufacturing is facilitated worldwide (2).


Customer, Products and Services

The following are Gap, Inc. brands. Gap brand caters to men, women and children with the other brands catering to men, women, young adults, teens and children.

Brands: Gap (including Gap, GapKids, BabyGap, GapMaternity and GapBody), Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime, Athleta and INTERMIX.


Outlet stores: Gap Outlet,Gap Generation and Banana Republic Factory Stores. Gap’s target market is men, women and children. The age group is vast ranging from infant to 60 year old. They hold a good share of the retail market globally as one of the leaders in clothing and accessories for the entire family and individual.


The goal to competitive advantage is competition, without it there is no innovation and without innovation there is no creativity, motivation or strategic goals and plans for the future. Gap is a worldwide brand however; they have the capacity for more reach, be more successful and eliminate and/or be ahead of the competition. Creating now products, looking at new markets and providing consumers with what they want will be the key to their success. The following are the top three Gap competitors and why Gap should examine their strategy further.

Macy’s: This retailer is Gap’s biggest competitor in men, women and children’s clothing. In 2012 Macy’s reported 27.6 billion in sales, belonging to the Bloomindales family they are the largest retailer. Their approach is concentrated on the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, for example, mobile devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, etc. which means they are strategic as an Omni-channel retailer. This is a huge concern because Gap need to be ahead of this strategy because Macy’s is already doing this (3).

JCrew: This retailer is not only a competitor but also a threat. In 2003 Millard

“Mickey” Drexler joined J. Crew as their CEO after resigning as Gap’s CEO. J. Crew arrived in the market as a mailing catalog and six years later open their first flag ship store in New York City. Mickey Drexler took the strategies he implemented at Gap and brought them over to J. Crew. This retailer caters to men, women and children with their upscale brand and style very similar to Gap and Banana Republic, which is a concern for Gap. For example, if Gap debuts a specialty cashmere sweater J. Crew will do the same and vice versa. J. Crew is fairly new to the market therefore; they have some time to catch up to Gap in terms of Omni-channel retailing (4).

Gymboree: This retailer is a competitor to Gap line of children clothes.

Gymboree started as a play and music in 1976 than entered the retailer market in 1986.

They carry unique, high-quality and fun clothes for children. Even though they are not practicing Omni-channel retailing they are do hold a large percentage of the market for children clothing. Therefore, looking at what Gymboree’s strategy and success behind market share is key in developing Gap’s own market strategy (5).

Web 2.0 Observations

Gap has come a long way from selling jeans in a small San Francisco store to a worldwide brand that manufactures clothes for men, women and children. As the internet grew and the options for online shopping became a reality Gap had to integrate a Web 2.0 model in order to 1. Gain profits and market share and 2. Have a foot ahead of the competition in terms of online sales and penetration. However, with Web 3.0 round the corner they need to strategize and prepare as the web is changing constantly as well as, striving to be the leading retailer in Omni-channel retailing.


For the most part Gap is doing a good job in terms of integrating Web 2.0 and social media campaign into their strategy. They have a Twitter page with 272,360 followers and a Facebook page with 4,791,337 likes, this is inclusive of their own web page that features their entire brand portfolio. They are utilizing interactivity, sharing and collaboration via these sites by posting photos, events, trends and numerous blogs about men, women and children’s fashion and trends. However, I did notice a few random unnecessary links such as “job” and “events” which are ambiguous and not relevant to these sites. If someone is interested in working at Gap they would search he company website for that. However, they have built a strong web presence that has encouraged a lot of followers and people talking about Gap. The ability to collaborate is also present when you shop for something. For example, if one is interested in a pair of black jeans from Banana Republic one can read the reviews of other shoppers to get feedback on the jeans, that’s powerful!! I think they could do more in terms of partnerships with other sites such as Amazon or eBay to bring presence of the brand to those sites for reach purposes. For example, they could feature an item weekly on Amazon in order to hook consumers into the brand, which is cross collaboration.

In terms of fiscal stability, the implementation of Web 2.0 has reached the consumer and build relationships with the consumer, increased profits via online shopping and traffic as well as, having a strong website that is fun and easy to browse. Their web presence and the ability to think outside the box from traditional retail selling to implementing Omni-channel retailing are huge for a company like Gap. It’s the ability to shift from a legacy strategy to a more streamlined strategy that is innovative and increases profitably and builds consumer and customer base (6-SWOT).

A Web 3.0 Preview

For Gap Web 3.0 is valuable because it will make the search engine a lot easier for customers and users to search for what they are looking for. For example, if someone is looking for a women’s red plaid, down vest in a small they will be able to find it instead of searching pages and pages and never finding it. The most frustrating is going on the Gap website and becoming overwhelmed with millions of options and giving up because you can’t find what you are looking for. It will also improve Gap’s e-commerce platform and increase web performance as well. It will also improve SEO which will connect more customers and those interested in the brand to the website. After all it’s all about ease of use, generating reach, users and revenue.


SimilarWeb PRO – All Social Traffic



SimilarWeb PRO – Organic Social Traffic



SimilarWeb PRO – Paid Social Traffic



Web Analytic Tools

What Gap needs to do to gain competitive advantage is to increase their visibility on the web, improve website results and adjust keywords and phrases and leverage online shopping with a good international option that covers key countries. Also, providing an ROI on the website including its capabilities, success and recommendations for improvement would be key. Without solid strategy for growth and success they will not have senior executive advocates that will support this effort.

Marketers must constantly analyze site traffic and gather marketing metrics in order to build successful company websites that will generate revenue, build the brand and more importantly report ROI. Without ROI a company is unable to measure their success or plan for the future. Below are the two web analytic sites/tools I reviewed and strongly recommend Gap utilize and include in their marketing strategy. This Company is a product of Roxr Software out of Portland, OR founded in 2006. Their tool is a real time Web 2.0 analytics tool and solutions. The platform they use is very easy and exciting to use, lots of good data. According to their website, they are currently tracking 200,000 website with an addition 500,000 through their partners.

I would recommend this tool because it gives data for areas such as, campaigns, links, searches, locale (heat map), engagement, content, traffic sources and much more. Once you upload this tool into a company’s website the information and data retrieved is endless. One of the most useful and critical tools is analytics on “Platforms.” This piece pulls analytics on how many visitors and which browser used and conversation percentage. For example, Google Chrome scores high however, Safari scores low. Safari is Apple’s main browser, which doesn’t support Flash. Therefore, a company is missing a huge population of visitors because of this functionality flaw. A recommendation would be to run pieces (ads, demos, presentations, etc.) on the company website that is non-flash so it can be compatible to Safari and for all to view (7).

Google Analytics: This is a one-stop shop that shows the full customer picture across ads, videos, websites, social media, tablets, smart phones, etc. It also helps build a marketing strategy and how it fits for businesses. Overall, it will help with competitive advantage; identify risks and opportunities both internal and external and build a solid marketing plan and strategy with Gap will need in the future and long term.

It has great features to help analyze the company website such as, measuring the outcomes and marketing and advertising campaigns as well as, optimizing ads and keywords. For example, it tracks conversion rates, which are activities when people sign up for an account, newsletter, purchase or sales transaction. These are important because these data will help build ROI and measure metrics and strategy.

I would defiantly recommend this tool to analyze Gap’s website’s traffic, conversions, obtain data on audience demographics, behavior and overall monitoring on how the website is managing out on the web. What is good about this tool is you are able to measure ROI. What I don’t like about this is tool is I can’t do research on my competitors and would recommend SimilarWeb to do that. Therefore, coupled with both tools they will have a good view on their analytics (8).

SimilarWeb PRO: I found a fantastic tool that concludes analysis and observation of The great thing about this tool is, the website and information it provides is free. It provides useful information such as website traffic overview, website traffic geography, referrals, search, social media traffic, display advertising, etc. The best tool I like is the “add competitors.” When you click on the button it gives you a list of competitors and same data populates so you can do a comparison against the company.

For example, one of their biggest competitors for Gap is Macy’s and J. Crew. The information provided gave a good overview on what the competition is doing well, not so well, rankings globally and U.S., number of people visiting the site and how well their social media campaigns are doing. This type of analysis will help Gap build a better strategy around sales, marketing efforts, reach, social media, how to strengthen and build up their SEO and be a better leader in the clothing retail realm. Below is the analysis I found for the month of September 2013.

Comparing Gap to Macy’s, J. Crew and Gymboree Gap comes in second in Global ranking with Macy’s coming in first at the 581 spot, J. Crew at the 8,665 spot and Gymboree at the 8,122 spot. Macy’s is leading because they have a bigger presence in the U.S. and globally. What is interesting is Gap coming in at the fourth spot for shopping>clothing with J. Crew coming in at the 93rd spot and Gymboree at the 87 spot.

Macy’s is not ranked, data available, which means they may fall under other categories besides shopping>clothing because they are a department store that sells other items. This is interesting because how are they leading the shopping>clothing globally and in the U.S. if they don’t fall under this category?

Another interesting piece of analysis is during October 2013 Macy’s had an estimated 647,370 visits compared to Gap’s 454,871 estimated visits (that is 192,499 difference). J. Crew had 35,816 and Gymboree 53,762 visits, which might mean that people rather shop in-store at these two retailers instead of online. In terms of social media, which sites are spreading the buzz and referring traffic are Reddit at 48.73%, Facebook at 26.04% and at 10.38%. is the largest European social networking site, similar to Facebook. Pinterest is at 3.58% but that’s because the site if relatively new and people are discovering and catching on. However, in the last three months the total traffic coming from social media was 2.9% and 0.38% coming from display ads. This is something to be looked at in terms of building a strategy to leverage social media a lot more.

Overall Gap traffic from searches is 10.4% with 88.24% of those searches being organic searches with 11.76% being paid searches on Google. They do have traffic, people are searching and shopping but they can do a lot more with reach and penetrating other markets, especially globally. Macy’s as their biggest competitor and threat is a big concern in overall market share. In order to beat their competition they need to work to bring more traffic to their site and optimizing their social media efforts as well. All of the above are key indicators that Gap needs to look at their strategy and make some adjustments to be the lead as an Omni-channel retailer (9 & A).

Marketers must constantly analyze the progress, data and ROI from their company’s website and take into account that marketing metrics data will provide measureable, actionable, accountable and feasible ROI. Without this, success for the program or company is limited also; senior leadership will not have faith or trust in what is being accomplished. With any executive ROI is the first question they will ask to know more about. In order to keep a program running and senior leadership advocates interested its importation to provide all data (good, bad and ugly) to show progress and provide recommendations for improvements and success. At the end of the day it’s all about – how will you make money and keep the shareholders happy, cost of doing Business.


Social Media Observations

In the last eight weeks I have observed and followed Gap’s social media campaign and have found some interesting trends, strategy and utilization. Below is where they strong and my recommendation for improvements.

They do a fantastic job with their website. It is up-to-date to the season, which is in sync with their sales campaign and activity for the week. They fail to provide items that only can be found at the store. It’s understood that every market is different based on demographics, macro and microeconomics however, it would be a plus to have hard to get items that are only sold at the store be available on-line as well. For example, Coach (purse retailer) who has stores all over the U.S. A purse I saw in Boston I was able to find on the website. This is great because it saved me a trip to store or many stores hunting down the purse. Also, Gap needs to move their social media links and other links to the top of the page where it’s easily accessible and viewable to the consumer. Lastly, the site should include recommendations to items viewed that pair to other items of clothing.

Twitter: They must have read my weekly reviews because they have revamped their Tweeter page and it looks much better than the last eight weeks. Instead of tweeting three times a day they increased it to four times a day! Also, their “make love” campaign is splashed all over the page, which looks good, still hate the name of the campaign, really? #makelove? Who thought of that?! I understand it means love rather than hate, which is fine, but the wording could have been more creative. Also, in the last few weeks Gap had major social media buzz. The ad campaign that featured a Sikh couple in their #makelove created controversy when Gap posted this image in store windows and in outdoor ads. The two people in the photo are a model and filmmaker who happens to be a Sikh. A New York photographer noticed one of the posters outside a NYC subway had been vandalized. He took a photo of the poster and sent it to Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at the “Islamic Monthly” who shared the photo on Twitter. As a result, this triggered a Twitter frenzy with hundreds of retweets. One of the tweets came from Gap who responded by changing its Twitter banner featuring the Sikh models. Gap also did this on their Facebook page as well. From this, support for Gap poured in with positives comments in reference to the company standing up to racism.

This is a good example of how Gap used social media to go viral with a strong message and turned a negative situation into a positive one. They also showed that they support all people especially in times of controversy (10).

Facebook: Their Facebook page is doing much better as well. It’s still a bit boring (I need more excitement) but their #makelove campaign is highlighted on their page. It’s good to see fan photos of children, which is showing some collaboration with their fans. This site needs a revamp to make it more exciting and collaborative.

Pinterest: This site is relatively new but a good to get traction on who is into fashion and get more people to follow you that are interested in something or a brand. I would like to see Gap utilize this site more, add more boards and link to their fans and other boards that are similar (cross collaboration). This site can prove to be successful if they utilize it more.

Instagram: This social site is good reach because so many people are on it and constantly searching for pages that are interesting and exciting. This week it’s all about winter and their #makelove Holiday ’13. They also have a strong presence with their mobile app, which provide constant updates. Below are Social Media Tools I would recommend Gap, Inc. to use to increase their presence and utilize their social media.

HootSuite: This tool will help manage multiple social media profiles and preschedule updates. It will also monitor keywords and analyze statistics. Gap needs help with Twitter and Facebook therefore; this tool will help monitor these social media sites (11).

ManageFlitter:This will help manage Twitter followings. This will filter out who is actually following and those who are junk. The goal is to reach more people but if they are reaching people by spam that wouldn’t work. The data must be clean in order to get accurate statics. People could be following you but do you know if they are real people? (12).

Socialbakers:Provides Facebook statistics. Gap is lacking Facebook fans therefore; this tool will help monitor how effect Facebook is and what adjustments need to be made to make it more affective. Overall, Facebook is one of the top social media tools that everyone uses. If it’s not being used correctly Gap may miss key information and possibly lose reach or go in the wrong direction (13).

Kurrently:It’s a real-time search engine data that provides results from Twitter and Facebook. It mentions providing just-in-time marketing and social CRM opportunities. If they can do this for Gap than this is a good tool (14).

Klout:Helps measure awareness on Twitter and Facebook. Since I’m not a fan of what I see right now they need all the help they can get! These two sites are the top two social media sites and they need to increase their fan base, reach and improve their sites – right now it’s pretty boring (15).

SEO Recommendation

Optimization Recommendations:

Gap needs to take their SEO up a notch to gain traction on their Social Media sites as well as, their website. Right now Macy’s is leading this effort, as their biggest competitor in Men, Women and Children’s clothing the other competitors are incremental. A complete evaluation of the website is needs as well as, competitor analysis, what is working and not working, how to optimize their SEO in terms of keywords and conversation values, link building, what strategy to use to get the website to rank in the top 10, land on the first page of a Google search and get ahead of Macy’s. Below I have picked the top four SEO tools I would recommend Gap use. Would I like to see Gap (which I have experienced with Nordstrom) if I have something in a shopping cart and walk away or click off by accident that action will trigger an email to remind me that I have items in my shopping cart. Nordstrom has this feature and it’s been helpful (for me) when I have forgotten or not sure about the purchase. It makes go back to the site to make a decision or look some more.

Moz: Moz is a good tool as well. It has a similar dashboard as Similar Web except with Moz they track traffic, track attention the web site receives, network size, performance by inbound channel which is useful data because it tracks social sites, searches, links, brands and mentions. What I like about the SEO for the social sites is – gives data on total network size showing the total size and weekly growth of social presence across all social channels. This is key because at the rate Gap is going they need to increase this effort a bit more. Another great feature is they compare the link to the competitor’s link; this data will help find what is working and not working. There are a lot more useful tools that are very useful and impressive. I would recommend this SEO tool (16).

Beanstalk: I like the guaranteed SEO services package. This package includes the following; Review and assessment of targeted keywords; Review and optimization of site structure to insure spider ability and increased content priority; Optimization of titles and meta tags; Optimization of content; Advanced link building; Manual search engine submissions and Monthly review and report on rankings across the major search engines. The goal for Gap is to optimize their website and social media and with a given strategy will provide them with reliable ROI. I would immediately call Beanstalk and set-up an apt and get this going. On top of this I would also recommend they hire one of their consultants to guide them thru an evaluation and continual support of the SEO goals and strategies. What I like about this package is they have a guarantee which means they will work hard to make it happen. Lastly, I read the testimonials for other clients and they are all good. If I’m convinced they should be convinced as well (17).

Google Analytics: If Gap is not using Google Analytics Premium, which I assume they are, they must! I would recommend this along with SimilarWeb Pro and Moz to get a 360-degree view of everything going on. They need to analyze their marketing strategy, search, social media, etc. Mostly importantly how all of this ties into what they are doing to sell their brand, be on top of the competition and obtain ROI. At the end of the day it’s all about ROI and being on top (18).

Search Engine Land: This website is a good tool for any SEO expert or Webmaster looking for information and articles on best practices and success stories. Here you can read about what other big companies are doing with their SEO efforts and what success they have had. They have some good articles under “strategy.” I signed up to get daily marketing news. I would recommend this site.

Niche Market Recommendation

Niche markets are a great opportunity to reach a market that has no exposure to a brand, product or service. It also opens the opportunity to set a presence in these markets in order to gain visibility for the brand as well as, obtain engage new customers and more reach. The two niche social media sites I would recommend Gap use are and

Zulily:is a free member site that provides daily deals for moms where they can find boutique products for her, her kids and home. According to an article written on 12/12/12, Zulily has 35 new sales events a day with 1,400 new products being posted each morning. They also have over 10 million members. The big seller for Gap is Baby and Kids Gap (babies and children) and this site would great if you are a parent looking for kids’ clothes at a reason price. I would suggest having a page on this site with Baby and Kids Gap and reach this market of people. It would mean marking down the price just a bit to compete against other brands but the opportunity to gain new customers and a market that doesn’t shop at Gap is well worth the risk. The goal here is to establish presence and reach those who shop for kids, which is a big seller for Gap (19). is a free member site where people find unique, cool and interesting things. According to Wikipedia, as of 4/30/13 has received 6M unique visitors per month and has sold over 7M products since launch. Since December 2012 they have over 10M members. This niche market social media site has a huge reach! Gap comes out with some items that are unique and fun to wear. Why not have a page on this site to reach those who otherwise would not go to the Gap website. I would suggest they sell unique Gap items for men, women and children and those customers who catch on and like the products will most likely go to the Gap website to see more. For example, if Gap sells one of their cool Banana Republic belts on the people will most likely buy it (I would) and after check out the Banana Republic website for more belts as cool as the one they bought (20).

In essence, using niche sites is like casting a fish line with bait and seeing whom bites. It’s also a good opportunities to see if other markets like the products or services or hate it. It’s also a good way to test product and services as well as, and get a different perspective from different groups.


In conclusion, I recommend that Gap expand their e-commerce business globally by fully utilizing Web 2.0; preparing and strategizing for Web 3.0; considering recommendation for web analytics, SEO and niche market to be utilized to expand the brand and continue their social media campaign implementing slight improvements to their most popular sites and stay on top of the buzz.

The goal is to be the lead Omni-channel retailer outperforming the competition. In order to do this they need to focus on the consumer whom utilizes all channels for their shopping needs. This will help Gap in their efforts to track consumers that are connected across all channels. This results in working from one database of products, pricing, promotions and campaigns thus, streamlining one process and developing a better approach. This will allow Gap to improve on their marketing more efficiently based on the analytics and patterns of the consumer. Lastly, this will provide measureable results on ROI, goals and metrics used.


Gap, Inc.

SWOT Analysis (6)


  • Brand recognition worldwide Carries high to low end brands making it affordable for all.
  • Shift with seasons’ trends and styles making the brand more interesting for consumers.
  • Outperforming its competitors such as American Eagle Outfitters and Ann Taylor’s Portfolio includes Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime (Differentiation).


  • Price point on their high end brands too high for consumers Competitors such as H&M and Forever 21 has higher market share of the younger generate on Competition in general.
  • Younger generation moving away from Gap brand.
  • Possible loss of profits if they are unable to keep customers interested.


  • Not enough creativity with some seasonal designs
  • Men’s clothes (Gap and BR) tend to be the same – no style
  • Women and Men’s sizes tend to be off
  • Not enough innovation to be cutting edge
  • Low productivity resulting in too many sales and loss of profits



  • Expand online shopping to capture the younger generation and those who shop online
  • Focus on key growth areas such as plus size, teens and young adults (who shop on line)
  • Penetration into Asia Pac (China, Japan, South East Asia, etc.) countries
  • Focus on direct marketing and PR campaigns including niche markets


• Wikipedia: (1)

• Gap, Inc.-About Us:


• Macy’s Inc.: (3)

• J. Crew-About Us: (4)

• Gymboree Corporation-Information: (5)

• (7)

• Google Analytics: (8)

• SimilarWeb – Data for September 2013 and October 2013: (9)

• Fitzharris, M. (2013, November 27). Web Response to Gap’s Defense of Sikh Model in Ad Campaign. Trending Now. Retrieved November 24, 2013 from (10)

• (11)

• (12)

• Socialbakers: (13)

• website down as of 11/25/13 (14)

• Klout: (15)

• (16)

• (16)

• Google Analytics: (17)

• Search Engine (18)

• Hahn, J. (2012, December 12). Daily-Deals Profile: Q&A with Zulily. DM Confidential. Retrieved October 15, 2013 from (19)

• (20)


© Maria Guevara 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Maria Guevara with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the Author -

Natalie Halimi is the Head of Marketing Communications & Education at SimilarWeb. With over 10 years of experience in marketing, Natalie has promoted services and products in the B2C and B2B arenas, in various industries.

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